Tamara Karrh

30 Sep

When Running Times asked if I wanted to write an article for their Masters section for the November 2010 issue — a profile of a masters runner who had already qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials — I jumped at the chance. But there were two catches: they wanted a woman who’d been a relatively late starter and was a first-time qualifier. After doing some quick research on who’d qualified already, Karrh, who lives and trains in Marietta, Georgia, emerged as the sole prospect who came remotely close to fitting those requirements. Fortunately for me, she was willing to be the subject of a profile. The complete interview appears below.



Hear the audio version of this interview. (Duration: 26:31; Download MP3)

Read the profile of Tamara Karrh in Running Times

One word of warning about the audio version: Skype, in its infinite wisdom, decided to install a software update during the interview. So at the tail end the audio goes haywire as my bandwidth becomes clogged and it’s nearly impossible to make out what Karrh is saying. I salvaged what I could. Also, my apologies for starting things off with mundane chitchat about the weather.

You ran the mile and two mile in high school. Then you say you got burned out after that. Can you talk about what happened to you post-high school?

I was training pretty intensely. Basically, track and cross-country were my life at that point, all through high school from ninth through twelfth [grades]. I went to Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. By the time I got there I was thinking I would be running. I got a few scholarship offers from various schools. But I ended up going to ACU not on scholarship.

But I realized, number one, how nice it was to have a little bit of freedom. I was so regimented during high school – practiced and ran all the time. And I was burnt out. I continued to run. I’ve always run, since I was 13. I’ve never really taken a break except for pregnancies.

I didn’t compete at that point. I would run a couple of little races here and there, just fun things. But nothing competitive. There’s a huge, long stretch of me not really racing – other than going to the little 10K here and there. I would just get up and do my own morning run, but nothing competitive, really, until recently again.

What got you competing again? Your record starts at 2003, with some 10Ks. What happened that year?

I had four children in 5.5 years. So I just started getting back into it, just really enjoying it again. Also for sanity purposes – it was kind of my only moment away. To be real honest with you, I have some natural, God-given talent here. I’ve always enjoyed running. I just decided to crank it up again. And, thankfully, I’m able to do that when I want to. So, it’s kind of been a series of events and a natural progression.

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“It takes a lot of hard work, as you know — as anyone knows — a lot of hours on the road.”

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I started doing a few little runs again, half marathons and stuff. And then I decided that I’d like to compete and that I really should be running a lot faster. I started cranking up the training, just on my own at first. Every race, I’d get a little bit faster, little bit faster. I started moving up the front line there and taking off with the front runners. And just having a nice little long stretch of first, second, third place finishes.

You know how it is. You just kind of get more into it. I thought, “I need to get a coach and get just a little bit more direction here.” So I went with Greg McMillan. So now he is currently coaching me, sending me my workouts and that sort of thing.

So, it’s just been this progression. From the half marathon – I did a long stretch of those. And then I just said, “I’m going to go do the marathon.” That’s when I went out to the California International Marathon in Sacramento. I went out there just to do a sub-3:00. And I was with the three hour pace group and I realized that I needed to go a little bit quicker, and took off and ran a 2:51 out there.

And then I decided I wanted to go to Boston. And they said, “We’d like you to be with the elite group.” And so I got to run that and did a 2:49 out in Boston. And then went to the [USA Marathon] Championship last year. It was a qualifier and I said, “I’d really like to qualify [for the Olympic Trials].”

Thankfully, it was one of those perfect days. Everything fell into place beautifully. I felt great. I was very well trained. Everything was kind of fine tuned. I typically go to these races by myself, with so many people to drag out there with my whole gang. I really did not want to come home without qualifying. It was one of those mindset things. I knew I had all of this year to do it, but I really wanted to do it on that particular day at the Championships.

You had an amazing time, too. The differential just in six months between your Boston time and what you ran that day…did you know that day that you were really “on” and having a good day?

I felt it, and certainly knew it when I crossed that half at 1:18. It was really just a day when it was perfect temp for me. I caught a groove. I ran with a gal named Wendi Ray. The two of us were together for the majority of the race. Everything just clicked. It’s just like anything else – there are days when everything comes together. It was just a day were I caught a groove and felt great. It was perfect.

I thought, “2:45, as long as I’m on this end of the 2:46 mark. But 2:45 would be great.” And everything was right. When I came around the corner and it was 2:40 I was pretty pumped about it. I felt thrilled with the results. I trained perfectly for it. All this being said, it takes a lot of hard work, as you know – as anyone knows – a lot of hours on the road. But that was definitely just a day where everything came together beautifully. So I was very, very pleased, needless to say.

Given how well that race went, do you have any temptation to try for an A standard? You’re only three minutes away.

Absolutely. I’m going back up to Minneapolis in October to the [USA] Masters Championships and I would love to qualify and get that A standard. That would be my next goal.

Are you planning to run with anyone in that race? Or are you going to just go it alone and see if you end up running with someone again?

I don’t know who the field is even at this point. Last time I checked it hadn’t even been published. I don’t know how many masters or who’s going to be there. There’s a couple of them who obviously stand out: Colleen De Reuck…


Ready to run, at a bit later than 4:00 in the morning.

I haven’t really followed the field. I really run for the thrill of it and for the enjoyment. I’m not that really follows everybody else’s careers and what they’re doing. I kind of just go out and do my own thing. I always train on my own. And so I’ll just get up there and maybe catch a groove with someone like I did. Wendi and I obviously didn’t know each other. We just lined up at the start line together. There was a large pack of us for the first half. Then she and I just kind of went off together. But it’s just one of those situations where if you find a groove with somebody, you can take off with them and you’re running stride for stride, it’s great. But at a lot of these marathons, I end up kind of on my own for long periods, like Boston. And I just ran out in San Diego in June.

How was that race for you?

That race was a little tough. I’d previously gone to Nashville. I was going to do Nashville and Minneapolis this year. Those were my two races. I went to Nashville at the end of April and, in a bizarre set of circumstances, I got misguided. I was in third place there, running with a Russian gal. We were running together and we got misguided and ended up with the half marathoners.

Yes, I wondered about that time. It was a strange time. I figured you were pacing a slower runner.

You saw my time there. I hit the half at 1:20 and then I finished at 2:10 or 2:12 or something [2:09:16]. Yeah, we got lost. The person that was supposed to turn us wasn’t there. It was just a fiasco. Anyway, that being said. Greg and I discussed whether I end on that note. I had run 21 hard miles that day, by the time we crossed the half marathon finish line. So it was, “Do I revamp here? Take absolutely no time off an revamp up to 85-90 miles a week and go to San Diego? Or do I just let this lie?”

Mentally, I didn’t want to let it lie. So I turned back around and got ready, which was supposed to be my down time, and went out there. So it was a tough race for me. I was pretty fatigued going into it. I’m glad I did it and I’m glad I completed it. But it was kind of a tough run for me.

I would never recommend that anyone go and race almost two marathons within a six week period. It’s pretty tough on the body. But, anyway, it was an okay run.

How long have you been working with Greg?

I guess it’s coming up on two years. Right after Boston – a year an a half, maybe? He sends me my schedule every day and I’ll give him my workouts daily. And then it’s just a matter of me getting up and doing them.

Are you sharing any kind of data with him? In terms of paces or heart rate information? Or is it more casual communication about how you’re doing?

It’s definitely more casual. I will give him some feedback and he’ll ask if I feel like I need more in one area. Or how things are going. But it’s very casual. It’s more just him kind of giving me some guidance on ways to be stronger and to be prepared for these races, and then I go do them. It’s usually me and the possums out at 4 o’clock in the morning. A few rodents and myself are about the only people out.

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“Most people probably wake up with a cup of coffee. I wake up with that first mile or two.”

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I hope you’re a morning person, getting up and training at that hour.

I have become one, certainly.

You must be tired later in the day. Just looking at the training schedule that you sent, some of these days are not only high mileage days, but they’re high intensity in the middle of them. Do you need to do anything later in the day, like take a nap to help recover from it?

I’m sure it would benefit me. But it’s not an option. I crash pretty hard when I finally lay down. Thankfully, I’m high energy and somehow I’ve adapted to the schedule. And I’m not going to say that there’s not a little tiredness. When I have a 20 mile day, or even more, there’s certainly some time when I would probably love to rest. But my oldest child has just turned 11 a few days ago, and my youngest is 5. So about the time when a nap would be really appealing is when the chaos of homework and everything ensues. So it’s just not an option.

Sample training week

Mon: 10 miles moderate

Tue: AM: 5 miles warmup, fartlek of 12-15 x 1 minute with 1 minute recovery jogs, 5 miles cooldown; PM: 5 miles easy

Wed: 10 miles easy

Thu: AM: 4 miles warmup, 7 miles tempo effort, 4 miles cooldown; PM: 5 miles easy

Fri: 10 miles easy

Sat: 24 miles steady

Sun: 6 miles easy

So we go from there to all activities to, as fast as we can, the dinner hour and baths and all that kind of craziness. And then the day ends and I crash after I get my little jobs done. But, thankfully, at this point I don’t need a lot of sleep. Every once in awhile it catches up with me and I’ll get a good, solid night. But I don’t need a lot.

And I absolutely look forward to my runs. I wake up several times during the night. I lay out all of my stuff before I go to bed. It’s all laying there. I put my stuff on. The majority of the time I walk out kind of half asleep. Most people probably wake up with a cup of coffee. I wake up with that first mile or two. That’s just been my routine for so long that I really don’t know any different. It just works, for whatever crazy reason.

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“I don’t do a lot of cross-training. I just hit the road. And run. That’s kind of what I’m built for, I think, and it’s all I really know. Me and running.”

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It’s just amazing to me that you have kids that young, yet you’re able to keep up this kind of schedule. Especially on your double days. How do you fit in the PM workout?

A series of ways. There are many, many days I end up on the treadmill despite the fact that I would rather not. But just because they’re all there. There are some times when a neighbor will say, “Hey, I know you’ve got another run. Go on out and do that.” I only really do the two-a-days for an 8-10 week period before I run a marathon. So it’s not a long period of time. And 5 or 6 miles, I can knock out pretty quickly. So if I’m fortunate and lucky and a neighbor happens to volunteer to take them, then I get to go outside. But a lot of times it’s on the treadmill.

Are you doing any cross-training, or making other concessions to age? To get the work in but maybe not with so much time on your legs? It sounds like you can handle high mileage, so maybe you don’t need to do that.

I probably should be. But I’m just a runner. People have asked me about triathlons and that kind of thing. I don’t do much else. I do a lot of weights, and pushups and situps and that kind of stuff. But I don’t do any swimming or biking or anything like that, other than just jumping in my pool in my backyard. Recreationally swimming some laps just because it’s fun.

But, no, I don’t do a lot of cross-training. I just hit the roads. And run. That’s kind of what I’m built for, I think, and it’s all I really know. Me and running. We’ll see how long that can go. For the first time, after those back-to-back marathons, I’ve had a little bit of a longer recovery period than I typically am used to. So hopefully I’ll continue on for a few more years. Recovery is definitely part of the equation that I’m needing a little bit more of. And I’m sure I’ll continue to need some more of as I get older and start to feel things a little bit more.

Besides the Masters Championships in October, do you have any other races planned leading up the Trials? Full marathons? Or are you going to play it by ear?

We are. At this point, I’m going to go up and hopefully have a great race in Minneapolis. Then I may, next year…I really enjoy half marathons. Number one, because the training’s a little less. And number two, the recovery: I can run a half marathon and be back at home that afternoon and taking care of everything I need to instead of needing the next couple of days just to recupe.

I may go back to running a few of those. I’d like to race a few of those again and get my time down even a little bit more. So I’m thinking I’ll probably do a few of those next year. I haven’t even planned them. I may squeeze in another marathon. But the marathons I want to do are probably too close to the Trials. I’d love to go up and run Chicago at some point. But, I don’t know. We’ll play that by ear and see what ends up happening.

I keep on saying to myself that next year’s going to be a down year, and just enjoy some fun 10Ks and halfs. I’m not much of a 5K gal, because they’re a bit too fast for me. I’m not fast. I can just kind of go the distance. But, that being said, as much as I’m resisting running a marathon, my guess is I’ll be signed up for one and be there. It’s a slight addiction.

Yes, you talk about it as thought it’s something that’s not really under your control. Which I certainly understand.

You’re right. At this point sometimes I feel like that. You just kind of get sucked up in it. And then it’s, “If I could just get my time down a little bit more…”

A lot of it is just the love of it. I love the training. I love getting up to the starting line. Of course, I love crossing the finish line. The whole process to me is nothing but enjoyable. Obviously, people talk to me on a daily basis. I live in this little bubble here in Atlanta. So I’m known as the runner that’s out all the time. People are just amazed and probably questioning my sanity often. “Four kids? What’s going on?” And all this racing. Obviously it’s for the love of it. You don’t do things, especially ones that take as much time as this, if you don’t thoroughly enjoy every bit of it. That’s my story. That’s kind of what it is for me. It’s something that I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to each and every day.

Just going back to the half marathons – I’d be really curious to see what you could do if you just trained toward that, given the fact that you hit the half last October in 1:18. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of [potential for] downward movement.

I’d really like to see what’s there. It’s such a fun race, the half. You can really give it all you’ve got.

I love seeing the downward progression you made. It’s so steady. Your times came down in almost every race.

That’s part of this whole deal for me: “I know I can go a little faster. I know I can go a little faster.” When I say faster – I surely am not a fast person. My 5K split in the marathon is going to be the same as when I just go out and run a 5K. I don’t have a lot of speed. But, yeah, I would really like to get that half marathon time down just a little bit more. Obviously that would benefit my marathon time too. So that’s definitely something I’ll focus on next year.

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“I don’t believe in this whole age thing in the running world. I do think that you can go out there an compete with some of the younger gals and do really well.”

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Do you have a particular goal for the Trials race itself?

Just being there is something. I just wanted to get there. I don’t even really know what to expect. When I look at that list, there are so many gals that are significantly younger than myself. I really don’t believe in this whole age thing in the running world. I do think that you can go out there and compete with some younger gals and do really well. But there’s a lot of gals that are running some incredibly strong times.

I would love for that to be the pinnacle. Whether I go up and do really well in Minneapolis – I hate to compare it, because I feel like maybe between now and then [the Trials] I’ll even run faster than 2:40. I’d like to do a sub-2:40 before I get there. But I would love for that just to be the race of a lifetime. And what that number is, I don’t know. But I’m going to give it all I’ve got. I’m going to be fine-tuned and trained to a point where I know I couldn’t have done anything else. I couldn’t have done any better. That’s the goal there.

Not to get too far ahead of things, but you’re only 40. Do you see this as something you’d like to pursue for 2016?

Gosh, if it continues, I certainly could. I’m kind of taking it one race at a time. And obviously the goal is to stay healthy. It [running] becomes more important as I age. I appreciate it and I relish it. I can’t say for sure, but it would be something to shoot for.

Do you have any advice for other masters women who might be shooting for this goal?

If somebody can put the miles in and they have the desire, put age aside. You know, it’s not easy. But you can do it. I would encourage them to go for it.

Marathon PR: 2:40:22 (Twin Cities 2009)

Age on Trials date: 43

Previous OTQs: None

Miles per week: Around 100

Hometown: Marietta, GA

Job(s): Mom

Hours per week: Nonstop

Personal: Married; four kids

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